Heads scratched in Hoi An about how to preserve ancient bridge

By Hoang Son, Thanh Nien News

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  Tourists visit Chua Cau, Hoi An. Photo: Hoang Son
Authorities in the ancient town of Hoi An have yet to find a solution for the preservation of an iconic 400-year-old bridge though its state of repair has been worsening for at least 16 years.
Nguyen Chi Trung, director of the Hoi An Center for Cultural Heritage Management Preservation, said experts are divided over how to restore Chua Cau (Pagoda Bridge) -- a complex consisting of a bridge over a small canal and a pagoda on one end.
Trung said on one hand, they suggested "placing the site in a glass cage", meaning that it should be put under restriction and a new bridge should be built next to it so that visitors can admire it without using it.
But others said that the addition of a new bridge would change the whole view, he said.
Yet others said the bridge should be restored but used because it is also a traffic facility.
The director himself has proposed to authorities to limit the number of visitors daily and cover the bridge floor to protect it.
Often the bridge has more than 100 visitors at a time, and even more during holidays, he said.
The authorities recently hired a consultancy to assess the capacity of the bridge before deciding how many tourists should be allowed on it at a time, according to Trung.
Dinh Hai, director of Quang Nam Province's culture department, said local authorities have organized many conferences to discuss the issue, but have yet to find a solution.
An international conference will be held this year to consult Japanese experts on the preservation plan, given that Chua Cau was built by Japanese traders who made up a large part of Hoi An’s population during the 17th century, he said.
"We need to restore the bridge urgently, but we cannot be hasty since any carelessness will distort the historic site."
Worse since 1999
Documents show that Chua Cau started getting "seriously" worse after a historic flood in 1999. Since its parts almost came apart, the bridge, which is built with rocks, mortar and wood, tilted to one side.
Though the problem was fixed later, in 2009 it was battered by yet another strong flood, prompting local authorities to repair its foundation again.
Now the damages are found mostly on the body, which is predominantly made of wood, with joints rotting and tie beams on its roof bent.
Trung said when it rains or floods, they have to strengthen the structure by placing sandbags around abutments and tying the bridge to some strong structure to reduce the effect of the flow of water.
But the job is not easy since the bridge is situated in a place where currents are most powerful, he said.

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